Prof. Al-Bishak, Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), is a man with multiple personalities having so many feathers to his hat. For decades, a famed journalist, brilliant newspaper columnist and notable Editorial Consultant, he has worked with The Triumph, The Statesman, The Guardian, Daily Times and the New Nigerian newspapers, among others. A robust critic and talented creative writer, he has given birth to a new literary theory called “Leoparditude”. He is a multiple award-winning journalist, novelist, varsity don and poet. The Zaria-born Al-Bishak was appointed a Professor of African Literature with speciality in Literary Egyptology by the Federal University Lafia, Nasarawa State, in the year 2019. He is the captivating author of many creative and scholarly works. To many young writers and students, he is not only an intellectual whetstone but also a tower of literary strength especially to the upcoming authors in Northern Nigeria where he now lives after his return from an almost two decades’ stay in Lagos. As a Professor of African Literature, he has a tenacious passion for Afrocentrism. He is a firm believer in the fact that the future of African scholarship lies with some African academics focusing serious attention on Africa as a strategy to reclaim its past glory being the home of the earliest civilization and mankind that gave to the world the first schools up to the universities, the art of writing or early scripts, literature, science, technology, etc. In this exclusive interview with Khalid lmam, a poet and Curator of All Poets Network, Prof. Al-Bishak pours out his mind on a wide range of issues. Enjoy.

LitVo: Sir, let us start this interview on personal grounds by asking, who is Al-Bishak?

Al-Bishak: I am a veteran Nigerian journalist, academic, literary critic and creative writer.

LitVo:  Is the name, Al-Bishak, your birth name or coinage? Tell us the secret, if any, behind it.

Al-Bishak: is a fusion of my birth names – Al-Basheer (Al-Bishir) and Bako, coined in my secondary school days; over forty (40) years ago. I have been associated with it so well that the birth names have disappeared, and I adopt it as a writer and even bear it officially because that is what most people know me as.

LitVo: How was the journey as a young man through the world of journalism: would you say your adventure as a journalist was a torturous odyssey or it was mission accomplished?

Al-Bishak: You can hardly say that you have accomplished anything in life until you’re about to die because life is a continuous experience.

I went into journalism by accident when I published my poems in Sunday New Nigerian newspaper just as I was about to enter Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria as an undergraduate in the 1980s. Late Mr. Yunusa Kadiri of Kaduna State Radio now Kaduna State Media Corporation (KSMC), who was the producer of a robust radio political programme called, “Mirror of Change”, read them and liked them. We met at the Nigeria Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) Club, Kaduna. He invited me to write political poems for the radio programme produced by him. From there, I joined the Current Affairs Unit as an artiste during the holidays and later as a correspondent at school in Zaria.  Subsequently, I met the Editor of the Sunday New Nigerian, Mallam Abba Dabo, who gave me the opportunity to handle the literary pages of the newspaper, and I edited “Poet’s Corner” and the “Short Stories” columns. I did my NYSC with The Nigerian Statesman, Owerri, joined Triumph newspaper, Kano, then The Guardian and Daily Times in Lagos, and became a public servant, returned to New Nigerian Newspapers as an Editorial Consultant, joined Nasarawa State University, Keffi and now the Federal University of Lafia as a lecturer.

LitVo: If you were to advise aspiring journalists, what would you best tell them?

Al-Bishak: My advice is for them to be hardworking, creative and principled. Journalism has no room for lazy bones. To excel you must be creative by doing things differently. To win respect as a journalist you must be principled – try to be objective and fair to all sides, and don’t compromise because of money or primordial interests.

LitVo: Personally speaking, was your exit from journalism what you had anticipated long before it happened considering your unyielding romance with academic scholarship before you eventually switched over from the newsroom to the lecture hall?

Al-Bishak: I had always dreamt of being an academic. It may interest you to know that as far back as my primary school I used the nickname, ‘Professor’. Alhamdulillah, I am now one. I knew that when the opportunity availed itself of being in the academia, I would be an academic. The opportunity came when I lost my job with New Nigerian as Editorial Consultant, and got offer from Prof. Zaynab Alkali, famous author of the novel, The Stillborn, when she was Deputy Vice Chancellor with Nasarawa State University.

LitVo: In one word, how would you describe your journalism career? Tasking and fulfilling or simply a wasteful adventure that unnecessarily delayed you from being an academic in good time?

Al-Bishak: No experience in life is a waste. I gained a lot from my experience as a journalist, and still find myself practising it in some ways.

LitVo: As one of the few young Northern Nigerian writers in the early 1980s writing in the English language, how was the experience like? In those days, there were few, if any, notable Northerners on the Nigerian literary landscape; was there support for some of you from the North to develop your craftsmanship? Did the established Nigerian writers from the South like the Achebes or the Soyinkas bother to hone you guys’ skills through mentorship or workshop and so on?

Al-Bishak: My foray into creative writing was self-driven blessed by Almighty Allah. It was a clear case of chasing one’s dream. I was inspired by the literary works we studied and the literary clubs at school and the opportunities provided by the news media such as radio and newspapers which promoted creative writing.

When I met Chinua Achebe at Nsukka during my NYSC I read to him my poems and later sent him my collection of short stories which he read and sent me his comments.   To

LitVo: Would you say the drought of notable writers from the North then was influenced by the low level of literacy in the region or simply cultural conservativism against fictional writing despite the fact that the North had had a flourishing culture of indigenous poetry and Arabic scholarship as far back as the glorious days of the ‘Jihad’ led by Sheikh Usman Danfodio?

Al-Bishak: Scholarship in Northern Nigeria predated the Jihad by Usmanu Dan Fodiyo, which was a late 18th century CE to early 19th century CE phenomenon.

To be Continued

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